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Opinion Columns

Opinion: 10 points to deflate the claim that “ending fossil fuels” is dangerous to the environment

The 156-megawatt Comanche solar array, shown here on Jan 20, 2019, in front of the Comanche Station, a coal-fired power plant. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Oil and Gas Association CEO Dan Haley’s opinion piece (Sept. 17) about the dangers of ending our reliance on fossil fuels scored a perfect “10.” He was wrong on every single point. On the eve of this week’s United Nations Climate Summit, I feel compelled to set the record straight.

Elise Jones
  1. “The environment would suffer.” This is Orwellian in its rhetoric. By moving quickly to low- or zero-carbon energy systems, every single aspect of Earth’s environment would improve: our air, our water, and our human- and non-human habitat. Haley apparently discounts – or completely ignores – what virtually every Earth scientist has been telling the world for decades: The planet is warming, climate systems are being disrupted, communities are suffering from more extreme weather events, agricultural conditions are changing rapidly, threats to public health from the spread of disease are increasing, and other impacts are buffeting modern societies – all tied to one major source: burning fossil fuels.   
  2.  “Energy prices would skyrocket, and the most vulnerable among us would suffer.” Surely Haley knows that here in Colorado, the cost of producing electricity from the sun and the wind is already the same or cheaper than from fossil fuels. The most vulnerable among us, many already disproportionately affected by emissions that create smog and other impacts from fossil fuel extraction, will be much better off in our lower-carbon future.
  3. “The world would become less safe.” Even traditionally conservative institutions such as the Pentagon have been warning that climate change is a “threat multiplier” that will bring about mass migrations, wars, food insecurity, armed conflict, and other human suffering. The faster the United States launches into the lead to transition us away from fossil fuels, the safer we, and the world, will be.
  4. “More than 1 million people across the United States could lose their jobs.” Any lost jobs in the fossil fuel sector will be replaced by better, cleaner, safer, and more productive careers in alternative industries. Colorado’s economy already relies much more heavily on “clean tech,” financial sector employment, and the recreational economy for jobs. The oil and gas industry represents a tiny fraction of our state’s economic output, and recent legislation has committed funding to help retrain and transition this workforce.
  5. “Our economy would tank.” See No. 4. Any quick reading of economic data in Colorado shows that there are more than three dozen sectors of our economy that supply more jobs than the oil and gas industry, including advanced manufacturing, any number of professional, technical, and scientific services, construction, health care, and education. These are and should be the drivers of our economy.  
  6. “Students would lose.” If we care about our young people, we must tackle our climate pollution challenges and leave them a planet that is inhabitable, plain and simple. Colorado students are already suffering negative impacts from our fossil fuel energy focus, as oil and gas operations move closer to school playgrounds, ozone pollution triggers increased asthma attacks, and the boom-and-bust cycles of the oil and gas industry whipsaw state spending on education. 
  7. “Critical infrastructure would go unfunded.” The Land and Water Conservation Fund is supposed to offset some small amount of the damage done by oil and gas drilling, but it has seen billions of dollars of its revenue diverted for non-conservation purposes. A better outcome would be avoiding those environmental harms in the first place. In Colorado, which has some of the lowest severance tax rates in the country already, state and local governments are often forced to fund cleanups of oil and gas wells, bleeding funding from other projects.
  8. “Manufacturing costs would go up, meaning costs for consumers would go up.” We are already paying a premium for our reliance on fossil fuels, in our public health costs, our rapidly changing climate, and in many other ways. A transition to a fossil-free future would ultimately lead to lower energy costs and a much more efficient economy.
  9.  “Charitable organizations and nonprofits would suffer.” Please. Much of that charity you cite from the energy industry provided them giant tax write-offs. Thousands of Coloradans in other industries supply both charitable donations and volunteer work that is not yoked to an industry that is causing damage to our air, water, and social fabric by continuing to insist that oil and gas wells be placed in people’s backyards and communities.
  10.  “Our independence and values as a nation would be diminished.” When the United States seizes the lead in renewable and low-carbon technology, the world will be at our doorstep paying for the right to use it. And if the fossil fuel industry was truly focused on America’s energy independence, it wouldn’t be exporting oil and gas overseas to maximize their profits to the detriment of American communities and the global climate. It’s also hypocritical for Haley to complain about the property rights of mineral owners when the industry depends upon the un-American use of “corporate eminent domain” to force pool the development of minerals against property owners’ wishes. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Our planet deserves better than the kind of myopic viewpoint presented by Haley. Our climate crisis demands a national and international response that is commensurate with the threat of our continued reliance on fossil fuels. It starts from running, not walking, away from our oil and gas dependence. We Americans are smart, resourceful, and resilient. It’s time for us to embrace a safer, cleaner energy future and put Haley’s rhetoric in the rear-view mirror. 


Elise Jones is a Boulder County commissioner